Since the start of our nationwide quarantine lockdown in late March and early April, we have witnessed the health disparities that exist for communities of color as racial and ethnic minorities are increasingly being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
People of color have been at the frontlines of this pandemic, serving as essential workers and involved in daily interaction with the public. In addition to the essential service these communities provide, people of color are more likely to encounter obstacles when accessing health insurance or health services, including language barriers, finance, time, and, making health care inaccessible. These disparities are true and prevalent in San Diego, California where Latinos have disproportionately been affected by COVID-19.
However, with the help of trusted community health workers, known as Promotoras, Latinos and other underserved communities are realizing they are not alone in this period of isolation.
Although Latinos only make up about 34.5 percent of the region’s population, they make up 63 percent of the positive COVID-19 cases. In addition, Latinos are dying at a disproportionately higher rate, accounting for 47. 8 percent of COVID-19 deaths in San Diego county.
Because of the health care disparity of Latinos and low access to medical information, teams of promotoras are being deployed into Latino and other underserved communities. Through the collaboration with the County, San Diego State University’s School of Public Health, and nonprofit organizations like Project Concern International and South Bay Community Services, promotoras are providing an increase in outreach.
The promotoras are responsible for contacting residents with COVID-19 by phone, email, text, or in certain cases through in-person visits. SDSU’s School of public health has a team of 35 promotoras who speak various languages, including spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog. Promotoras give residents information and resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure they are staying in a safe space to quarantine.
“You can tell when they are breathing that they are having difficulties, and you feel for them because you know that they are sick,” Rocha Estrada said. “You don’t know what that is going to look like for them, and you can only hope that they are going to make it.” Cynthia Rocha Estrada told the San Diego Union Tribune, a community health worker with San Diego State University’s School of Public Health
Oftentimes, promotoras are the one’s witnessing firsthand the existing disparities in health care, housing, and socioeconomic opportunity affecting underserved communities in San Diego.These disparities are only visible and heightened due to the pandemic. Promotoras come across families who are food insecure, essential workers and don’t have the capabilities to work from home, or don’t have the proper resources to safely quarantine.
“They live here, they shop with them, they’re dropping their kids off at the same school,” said Rachel Morineau, community engagement director with South Bay Community Services. “It is more like connecting with a neighbor.”
Even before the pandemic, promotoras have played a vital role in their communities by providing medical and food resources, as well as education and counseling resources. They create lasting relationships with people, cultivating a community of trust and respect.
“They trust us and they have confidence in us,” Anita Pedroza told CBS8. She is a long time promotora volunteer from the South Bay Community Service in Chula Vista.
La Promotora model:
From Latin America to the United States, the promotora model has been used since the 1950’s to help underserved communities. This model originated in Latin America as a way for women to get information about reproductive health from other women they trusted. In the 1980’s and 90’s promotoras and other community-based initiatives thrived as Latin America was coming out of several civil wars and other conflicts. Now, promotoras are a vital component of the Latin America healthcare system specifically in lower income areas, such as Cuba, where doctors are inaccessible and expensive. Apart from sharing medical information, some promotoras also share guidance on justice and legal issues in Latin America.
In the United States, the promotora model was utilized as early as the 1960s. The model was first active in Texas and the West Coast, primarily serving migrant farmworkers and cities with large Latinx populations. Promotoras mostly shared medical information about liver disease, asthma, diabetes and other health problems that Latinx communities were enduring at disproportionate rates. Today, promotoras are active in all 50 states and Washington D.C. raising awareness about health problems and reproductive health, where promoters are trained from Planned Parenthoods own promotoras program. In addition to community health workers, promotoras are also organizing to share other information on barriers that Latinx communities endure, specifically education. In California, Santa Ana College established a Padres Promotores program where they guide Latinx families for the purpose of helping them and their children prepare for higher education.
What can we learn from the Promotora Program
Promotoras bring a vital component to many underserved communities. They are often considered the bridge builders between communities and vital services such as education, health, legal etc. This grassroot approach and innovative approach strengthens relationships and trust among community residents, while simultaneously connecting individuals with information and resources. This effectively builds engagement and transformation, establishing relationships based on respect, understanding, and empathy. With the help of Promotora programs and volunteers in San Diego, community members and individuals are being reminded that they are not alone, even in this period of isolation.
Daisy Gonzalez is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside studying public policy and education. As a first-generation Mexican-American student, Daisy has witnessed firsthand the inequities of the public education system and the challenges students of color face navigating these institutions. Because of this, she has always been interested in learning about education reform along with the critical action needed to ensure educational equity and achievement. She is passionate about combating education issues such as unequal redistribution of resources, the integration of diverse curriculum, effective teacher preparation programs, and other issues affecting the experiences for students of color. Daisy hopes to pursue a career in education policy to uplift the narratives of underrepresented students and advocate for a more equitable, supportive, and empowering learning experience. As an immigration writer, Daisy hopes to uncover stories that display the uncertainties undocumented students endure, which are oftentimes neglected when having conversations centered on education reform. She hopes that through her stories policymakers, school districts, and the general public can gain a better understanding of their experiences and inspire multilateral support for these students.